Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB
Italy, 1961. Columbia Pictures Corporation, Dino De Laurentiis Company. Screenplay by Christopher Fry, based on the novel by Par Lagerkvist. Cinematography by Aldo Tonti. Produced by Dino De Laurentiis. Music by Mario Nascimbene. Production Design by Mario Chiari. Costume Design by Maria De Matteis. Film Editing by Raymond Poulton.
Those who enjoyed the gladiatorial spectacle of Spartacus but felt it lacked the cheesy religiosity of Ben-Hur were likely thrilled with Barabbas, a film that ably gives you both elements for the price of one. Anthony Quinn is excellent as the rough criminal of the title who, on the day of a holy feast, is one of two prisoners who could possibly be released by Pontius Pilate, the other being Jesus. Barabbas is chosen by the people and goes home to his band of merry thieves, only to witness the sky go dark when the less fortunate prisoner is crucified in a scene that is eerily well done (complete with a real solar eclipse on screen).
From there he has a picaresque adventure that sees him get thrown into bondage for years in a mine, become a gladiator slave in the arena and then be born again a believer in Christ when his experiences have him understand the nature of the man whose life was taken in place of his own.
It has a lot of self-importance that it doesn’t quite earn, but the beautiful sets (shot in Italy) and excellent casting make for a very diverting film, plus there are some wonderfully exciting sequences when we finally get to the coliseum. It’s one of the better films in this era of “gloriously junky” ancient epics that were so very popular.